Reviews by AKheon

IF Comp 2020

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The Shadow In The Snow, by Andrew Brown

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Somewhere between cozy and clunky, December 13, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2020, horror

The Shadow in the Snow is a choice-based game by Andrew Brown, published in 2020. The game is about getting stranded in some isolated forest area during a snow storm (Spoiler - click to show)and surviving a werewolf attack.

This is one of the first titles I tried during IF Comp 2020, and I ended up playing an early version of the game that had some truly game breaking bugs. For instance, you could softlock the game by simply using a certain text link too many times in a single session. Since then, the developer has fortunately fixed the worst bugs in the game, making it at least playable.

The gameplay consists of clicking text links to move around the area, occasionally examining and picking up things. There is an element of trial-and-error here, since sometimes you have to choose between multiple choices that you can't know in advance which leads to salvation and which does not. Other than that, it's a pretty simple and short game, with a few additional details you can miss during a playthrough if you're not thorough.

The lack of ‘undo’ is an inconvenience - if you get a game over, your only choice is to return all the way back to the beginning of the game. While the lack of ‘undo’ suits horror, in my case it made playing the game feel extra unrewarding since I also encountered those major bugs that forced me to restart several times.

The writing style is simplistic but functional, with short paragraphs and terse descriptions of what’s going on. The brevity keeps the story moving along at a respectable pace while helping to create a somewhat tense, mysterious atmosphere.

The game uses background music. The music track itself is a pleasant if melancholy symphonic piece. It sounds very midi, but it brings to mind a wintry scenery and old video games, so it works quite well for its purpose. The dark presentation and the music together create a strangely cozy atmosphere that makes me like this game more than I probably should.

While flawed, The Shadow in the Snow could still be worth a try for some players. It should only take around 15 - 30 minutes to finish, so feel free to give it a try if you dare.

The Eleusinian Miseries, by Mike Russo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Delectable and farcical, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: comedy, IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform

The Eleusinian Miseries is a parser-based comedy game by Mike Russo, published in 2020. The game is about partaking in secret religious rites in Eleusis, (Spoiler - click to show)although in practice it’s close to just being an excuse to gorge on food and drink, at least as far as the main character is concerned.

The game is, above all else, a puzzler. It consists of several mostly self-contained scenes with clear goals on what to do. The design is streamlined enough that it’s usually not hard to figure out what to do, although sometimes locating needed items or understanding how to complete the various objectives might be a problem. I personally got stumped at a few parts, but I wouldn’t say the design here is unfair in any respect.

The writing is rather verbose but polished. The game presents itself as a farce, and it definitely has some comical, unfortunate situations in store for the hero. The narrator voice has a lot of personality, being jovial yet a bit dainty and spoiled - it really fits the character of a cultured wastrel with a short attention span.

A part of me was expecting the game to go even further in some respects. The tone of the comedy strives to stay rather clean and prim at all times, which might clash a little bit with the hedonism- and debauchery-laden setting. Then again, I’m not too familiar with the major inspirations behind the story, or historical farce in general. Maybe this is the most authentic approach for this style? I couldn’t say.

With around 2 hours playtime and a detailed implementation that is fun to mess around with, there’s a good amount of content to be found in The Eleusinian Miseries. It’s worth checking out for a solid puzzler, especially if you’re interested in anything pertaining to ancient Greece.

Minor Arcana, by Jack Sanderson Thwaite
Otherworldly and ominous, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: fantasy, IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine

Minor Arcana is a choice-based fantasy game by Jack Sanderson Thwaite, published in 2020. You are a sentient Tarot deck with a long, grimy history and an air of misfortune about you. The story consists of a loosely structured series of recollections, some of which can be explored through your choices.

The game features bits of real life Tarot-traditions mixed in with some dark fantasy and fatalistic drama. The writing is of high quality, and it has a foreboding, mysterious tone that makes it quite interesting to read.

The story has a few different branches to explore, and (Spoiler - click to show)it seems that some of the content can only be seen while replaying. The design gives the game a secretive air - even after multiple playthroughs I was left curious about the game's story and setting, wondering if there were still any important details or additional closure to find.

It’s a fairly short game, only taking around 30 minutes even if you replay it a few times. It should be worth it if you’re looking for something otherworldly and ominous. Personally, the game consistently held my focus due to its slightly unique format and esoteric storyline.

Phantom, by Peter Eastman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Phantom considerations, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: drama, IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine

Phantom is a choice-based game by Peter Eastman, published in 2020. It’s a story-driven 30-minute experience about an aspiring opera singer who meets the Phantom (of the Opera).

The game begins with some discussion about the tropes pertaining to this classic horror character. On my first playthrough, I assumed the purpose of this was to refresh the player's memory and ease them into the setting. (Spoiler - click to show)You could argue the whole game largely *is* a character study of Phantom; in some ways this idea even eclipses the rather low-key main story line.

The writing is generally good. It has enough detail to create a convincing image of the main character and her aspiring opera singer ways. The overall pace of the story is quite fast, though, and towards the end characters are introduced and plot developments happen so fast that not all of it has the weight it deserves. (Spoiler - click to show)The biggest twist here is that the protagonist is also villainous, so it’s not a clear-cut “beauty and the beast” tale this time around.

Your choices during the game (Spoiler - click to show)are less significant than you'd hope. Act III changes depending on what you picked earlier on, but not by too much. For example, I think that even if you choose classic Phantom, he is still a master of using modern technology and cameras for some reason.

The game has multimedia. There’s a background image of red curtains that creates a nice stage for the story, although when I was playing on Chrome, the lowest part of the graphic sometimes cut off to white instead of black, which looked a bit glitchy. The game also uses some background music. The snippets of classical and opera music work well in the context, but some of the public domain samples suffer from the limitations of their day, making the game feel a bit anachronistic. The story is supposed to take place in the modern day, but the audio quality brings to mind the 40s.

Overall, Phantom is not perfect, but it should offer an interesting time if you enjoy any media related to this classic horror character.

Amazing Quest, by Nick Montfort

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Amazement is in the eye of the beholder, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, experimental

Amazing Quest is a choice-based game by Nick Montfort, published in 2020. The platform is quite unusual, as this appears to be a Commodore 64 game running on an emulator on the IFComp website.

You are a space wayfarer at the end of a victorious journey. To get back home, you answer simple yes / no questions about what to do in various randomized situations.

The minimalism is one of the most striking features of Amazing Quest. The various planets and areas you visit are described with exactly one adjective and one noun each, and the rewards for your success or failure are likewise expressed very succinctly. The writing is as terse as you could possibly get without losing sight of the core idea. It all leaves a lot to the imagination - perhaps too much.

The supplementary materials feature a 2-page manual written on a typewriter. The manual elaborates on the game’s apparent purpose: it should be all about meaningful decision making and getting the player into the mindset of a returning wanderer who has to decide if it would be wise to f.e. speak plainly in a strange place, potentially revealing your weaknesses to hostile characters. The language is somewhat mythical and dramatic, and it reminds me a lot of slightly pulpy science fantasy fiction, possibly even power metal.

The gameplay would work better if (Spoiler - click to show)there was anything at stake here. I tried intentionally creating a fail state inside the game by answering all the questions “wrong”, but I couldn’t do it very consistently and ended up winning every single playthrough. In fact, just smashing ‘enter’ over and over is enough to win the game. It gives me the feeling that victory is inevitable, wrong answers only delay it. I wonder if something like this *is* the intended message of the game? Such an optimistic vibe might be par on course for a game called “Amazing Quest”.

Overall, this is a rather strange title that requires a large suspension of disbelief from the player. Depending on how seriously you take it, there could be a world of adventures here, or there could be almost nothing. I personally found it a bit thought-provoking, at least.

A Calling of Dogs, by Arabella Collins

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A darker place, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Ink, horror

A Calling of Dogs is a choice-based horror / thriller by Arabella Collins, published in 2020. In it, you’re a woman who is being held captive in a cage. Interacting with your kidnapper and (Spoiler - click to show)thinking about how to escape or gruesomely murder him make up most of your choices inside the game.

The tone of the game is intense and unpleasant. The slightly rambly and at times very graphic writing creates an impression of a feverish thought process where it’s mainly hatred that keeps one sane. I thought the characterization of both the hero and the villain worked well - I was always interested in seeing what would happen next in the story.

The game has an ambiguous lack of polish. The writing has a lot of typos and odd turns of phrases, but that might be an intended part of the expression here to create that aforementioned feverish, raw feeling. However, I did find one softlock too, which is a bit harder to defend. (Spoiler - click to show)During day three, right after being let out of the cage, I examined one of the choices twice. This resulted in a dead end with no more choices appearing.

While the game is short - only around 15 minutes - it has some significant branching paths and therefore replay value, in case you want to relive this harrowing scene. It’s simply a potent experience, if you don’t mind entering a darker place for a moment.

The Impossible Bottle, by Linus Åkesson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Intricately realized puzzling, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Dialog

The Impossible Bottle is a parser-based game by Linus Åkesson, published in 2020. In it, you play as a six-year old girl who has to clean up and help do other chores around the house. Things are complicated by the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)she and her family seem to live inside a fractal arrangement of doll houses. Or maybe it’s all just the power of the girl’s imagination?

The gameplay is all about puzzles. The core mechanics here are really clever, supported by a well-designed and responsive world that encourages (and demands) experimentation. I was a bit frustrated by (Spoiler - click to show)how chronically helpless Dad is, but I guess most games wouldn’t exist if everyone else in the game world were more competent than the player.

The writing is efficient. The tone is sometimes ordinary, sometimes imaginative and whimsical. It does its job without wasting words.

The game has three clearly defined acts, but it still feels like a loosely structured “sandbox” puzzle game at heart. The drawback with this approach is that the gameplay can feel a bit uneven. I solved some puzzles before even realizing they were puzzles, and then, at other times, didn’t have the slightest idea on how to even begin accomplishing some task. Some random or timed events can also add to the confusion.

The way the game is playable either parser-based or choice-based is a nice and unique touch. I played the online version and thought the presentation was all around smooth.

The Impossible Bottle is an impressive puzzle game that makes me interested in the potential of Dialog. Even though my playthrough had some small snags and confusing moments, it’s probably nothing that can’t be fixed in a post-comp version. It’s fundamentally a solid title that does some unique things, and it’s simply fun to mess around with.

Saint Simon's Saw, by Samuel Thomson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A tool for introspection, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, Unity, experimental

Saint Simon’s Saw is a program by Samuel Thomson, published in 2020. I’m not sure if you can call it a game, as it doesn’t have a conventional goal or a real win state - I would say it’s closer to a tool or a toy.

You’re supposed to think about a problem you have, then pick four cards from a deck to get a short reading. Like the blurb says, the process is a bit like tarot, although different - the cards and the logic of the reading both appear to be designed by the author and contain some unique symbolism and meaning.

The program has been made in Unity and it features some 3d-graphics, a smooth presentation as well as a set of hand-drawn cards. The execution is generally impressive, although there are a few typos and I couldn’t find a button for quickly restarting to get a new reading. Wonder if that is by design?

Carl Jung thought tarot could have relevance in psychology because of the archetypal imagery contained in the cards, and I’m guessing the author is along the same lines here. Symbols can be a powerful way to express concepts, and being confronted with symbolic imagery in relation to a personally important topic might help you see it from a new angle, or possibly ascribe new meaning to it.

The blurb says that this game is “intended as an aid for mediation, and for the envisaging of radical futures”, and I have no doubt that with the right type of a person it will do just the trick. If you enjoy esotericism, symbols, cartomancy and similar topics - or just have a generally pareidolic sensibility - Saint Simon’s Saw could be helpful, enlightening or simply interesting. It only does one thing, but it does it well. (It’s probably a very acquired taste, though.)

Turbo Chest Hair Massacre, by Joey Acrimonious

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The things people will do for love, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform, comedy

Turbo Chest Hair Massacre is a parser-based comedy game by Joey Acrimonious, published in 2020. In it, you’re a woman about to go on a date when you suddenly discover you have some light chest hair you need to shave.

The gameplay is exploration-heavy - you mainly search around your apartment for ways to get rid of your chest hair. You are also able to switch between the point of view of yourself and a robotic colleague who is present. The narrative voice completely changes depending on who you’re playing as, which is a very nice touch that adds a lot of personality to the experience.

The tone of the story is pretty light-hearted, although sometimes all the naughtiness, innuendo and (Spoiler - click to show)the main character’s recklessly stupid behavior can border on the limits of good taste. Personally, I think good taste is a bit overrated anyway, but this is still useful to note since some players will inevitably find crassness of any sort a turn-off.

I feel like it’s hard to get enough information about your surroundings in this game. The room descriptions only mention objects on a very general level; if you want to know what’s really inside some room, you need to examine individual things to reveal more individual things again and again. Opening a container doesn’t seem to automatically list its contents, and the “search” command can be criminally unhelpful at times too. It doesn’t help that the rooms are generally full of red herrings and other detail that makes it harder to know what’s really relevant to the problem at hand. One final layer of confusion stems from the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)the two main characters see the world slightly differently, each listing different things in their room description - realizing this is necessary to solve some of the puzzles in the game.

Since most of the gameplay is centered around nearly unguided exploration and discovery, and the design is non-linear, plus the game’s train of thought can be rather eccentric at times (Spoiler - click to show)(you have to weaponize old yogurt against the final boss…?), my playthrough of the game felt sprawling, aimless and mildly desperate. But I guess you could say it’s exactly what the story was going for, since the main character too doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s willing to go to immense lengths just to rid herself of a bit of hair. Fortunately, there’s a walkthrough - it should come in handy with a few of the puzzles here.

This game could be worth playing if you want something with personality and outrageous humor, and are willing to deal with a lot of unguided exploration.

Quest for the Sword of Justice, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A lesson for aspiring adventurers, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, comedy

Quest for the Sword of Justice is a short comedy game made on RPG Maker by Damon L. Wakes in 2020. You are an aspiring young adventurer who wishes to leave his hometown and become a hero.

The gameplay consists of wandering around the town, trying to become equipped for great battles ahead. But as you might guess from the game’s advertised 15-minute length, the adventure won’t be very epic despite the convincing enough JRPG-trappings. (Spoiler - click to show)Trying to pick up the Sword of Justice from the local sanctuary ends poorly for our hero, one way or another.

The presentation is smooth, although I think most or all of the assets here come from RPG Maker itself. Some of the humor works, some seems a bit bland. Especially the beginning where you randomly wander around the town doesn’t have too much going on - I was expecting some more snappy dialogue or other responses, although there is a chance that I just missed some of the jokes.

The game has multiple endings depending on (Spoiler - click to show)your dialogue choices, who you talked to and what items you picked up before taking the Sword of Justice, so there’s a bit more to the game than first meets the eye. But not much. I wouldn’t mind playing a more fleshed-out parody of JRPG conventions, but I fear a part of the joke would go amiss in a longer game that was more than just an interactive anti-climax, a faint promise of adventures never meant to be.

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